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Is Trump fascist? Homework assignment asks Massachusetts teens to answer the question

A homework assignment from Haverhill High School in Massachusetts asked high school students if President Donald Trump is a fascist, sparking fury from some parents that it was too political of a question.
A homework assignment from Haverhill High School in Massachusetts asked high school students if President Donald Trump is a fascist, sparking fury from some parents that it was too political of a question. Screengrab from CBS Boston

Was it a thought-provoking question — or a homework assignment that just went too far?

That’s the debate in a Massachusetts town after a history teacher asked students at Haverhill High School to determine if President Donald Trump exhibits fascist tendencies, according to WHDH. It was titled “Some People Claim that Donald Trump is a Fascist: Time to Check it Out!”

For Dave Prescott, whose child attends the school, the take-home assignment wasn’t an appropriate way to educate students.

“I support the president,” Prescott told CBS. “I support a lot of the things he does. And for them to talk about fascism, in regards to the president, I just think this isn’t what I’m sending my kids to school for.

“If you want to bring up an issue,” he continued to the outlet, “don’t bring politics into it.”

While some accused the teacher of bringing his personal politics into the classroom, others said that’s not the case.

Student Angelina Parolisi told WHDH that “I’ve never seen or heard of (the teacher) trying to impose a personal opinion on any student.”

An excerpt from the U.S. War Department's PSA "Don't Be a Sucker," a 1947 film produced to warn Americans about the dangers of being persuaded by fascism and hatred.

Helen Zbitnoff, a parent, argued that she just views it as “an assignment that asks tough questions and encourages children to think for themselves,” according to Boston25 News.

Glenn Burns, principal at the high school, released a letter about the assignment as outrage grew in the community, The Eagle-Tribune reported.

“The Haverhill High School History Department works diligently to engage scholars in relevant and thought-provoking tasks and sometimes when developing these lessons ‘hot-button’ issues are discussed,” he wrote, according to the newspaper. “As we support the thinkers and problems solvers of tomorrow we believe it is imperative that our scholars are supported to grapple with and debate these topics in a safe space.

“With that being said, not every lesson is developed perfectly and feedback is necessary to bring to our attention that we missed the mark and have created a learning opportunity that skews the thinking of our scholars,” he continued, according to The Eagle-Tribune.

In his letter, he explained that students were asked to look at Laurence Britt’s “14 Characteristics of Fascism” and determine if they line up with President Trump’s actions, according to The Eagle-Tribune.

Those fourteen characteristics include:

  • “Powerful and Continuing Nationalism”

  • “Rampant Sexism”

  • “Controlled Mass Media”

  • “Obsession with Crime and Punishment”

  • “Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause”

Ted Kempinski, president of the Haverhill Education Association, said the goal of the homework was for students to “develop the skills to analyze documents and come up with their own factually based opinions,” according to WHDH.

One student who did the homework defended it as “a great idea,” according to Boston25 News.

“Definitely some things could have been done differently,” Spencer Zbitnoff told the outlet, “but overall I think it was a fantastic, interesting way, interesting twist on research.”

When fascism starts to feel normal, we’re all in trouble.

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